Last week I returned to Champs Hill to record my second solo CD for Champs Hill Records. It hardly seems possible that I was last there two and half years ago, as so much has happened since, including the label’s well-deserved winning of the RPS Award for Chamber Music and Song 2014.
Champs Hill is a remarkable phenomenon; a house of moderate size that acquired a purpose-built concert hall next-door (modestly known as the Music Room), through the enthusiasm of its owners for live music. A few recordings of performances followed and the idea of bespoke recording projects was quickly born. It soon blossomed into a large-scale project and there are now over 80 CDs in the catalogue, with many more to come.
Since my last visit, it seems that the level of activity has considerably increased. Ours is the first recording of 2015 but a whole series of projects is stacked up behind us in a carefully-arranged constellation that includes not just the recordings, but all the live concerts, talks and other activities that take place in the Barn as well. And that’s without all the planning required to maintain the beautiful gardens and open them to the public.
Making music in a supportive environment is wonderful in itself and the experience is enhanced still further by the ever-changing display of artworks on the walls of the Music Room. I loved being able to potter off between takes to look at a painting or a bust (I encountered Augustus John, who gets a name-check in Vivienne: “of all philanderers who might want to try it on…I might mention Casanova and Augustus John”).
It would be easy to delegate a lot of this to other people but the notable thing about Champs Hill is that Mary and David Bowerman remain in such close contact with every aspect of every project; the cover image for a CD, the placement of a piece of garden sculpture and the choice of recording artists all get careful attention. That they make time for each of us and make us feel so welcome in their house is the greatest compliment.